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An Interesting Challenge

(cross-posted at Haft of the Spear)

The Navy counter-intelligence officer who garnered a confession from Israeli spy Jonathon Pollard says that U.S. agencies missed a forest of red flags about him and risk repeating the same mistakes today they made more than 20 years ago.

Olive’s book reveals that administrative convenience and bureaucratic bungling allowed Pollard to be recruited and promoted despite being “a dreamer, a fantasist,” who repeatedly exhibited behavior that should have barred him from working for any U.S. government agency.

Among the red flags that investigators missed when Pollard was being considered for a top secret clearance from the Navy was his prior rejection by the CIA, where Pollard had applied for work in 1978.

Olive also faulted the background investigators, from the Pentagon’s Defense Investigative Service, for not even bothering to check whether Pollard had a masters degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Boston, as he claimed. In fact Pollard had dropped out and never completed the degree.


Growing pressure for clearance investigations to be completed on a foreshortened timetable, so that people could begin work, is “a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

Even after Pollard started work for the Navy, Olive pointed out, his bizarre behavior continued, and should have raised serious questions about his reliability.

On one occasion, Olive relates, Pollard excused his lateness and disheveled appearance at a job interview for a naval intelligence post by claiming that his wife had been kidnapped by the Irish Republican Army.

Must be Tuesday then . . .

Demand for cleared personnel is at an all-time high, the process to clear those people is cumbersome and the workforce that makes it happen too small, failing to properly screen out infiltrators and potential traitors can be catastrophic: what to do?

The easy and long-time answer of course has been to poly people, which actually eliminates more people from consideration for employment than it catches bad guys. It is a convenient short-cut that avoids the time-consuming and tedious work of actually ripping apart someone’s past life for signs they might be a complete and total nut-job.

The more recent answer has been to consolidate investigative operations and throw lots of young and inexperienced bodies at the problem (kind of like intelligence work in general). When I can recite the background check questions from memory better than the interviewing “investigator” can read them, that might be a sign that approach isn’t working all that well.

Unlike other manpower problems there is no H1B visa solution. Just when we need a large and strong CI capability it is being downshifted into second gear. So how do we meet the demand for loyal and reliable bodies without incurring more Pollards and Hanssens and Montes’?

Send your thoughts/ideas to the comments.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.